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Alexandria: A Hellenistic City

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of Ancient Greece.

After his conquest of Egypt, Alexander the Great ordered the building of the city of Alexandria as a major port for reviving commercial trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was the country’s only seaport at that time. The site chosen was a thin strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Lake Mareotis, with two promontories jutting into the sea: the Cape Lochias and the Island of Pharos. The construction of a causeway between the coast and the Island of Pharos gave Alexandria two separate harbours, one to the east and the other to the west, providing shelter for wind-powered ships.

The Island of Pharos was famous as the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Great Lighthouse, which could be seen from as far as 60 kilometers away. The city was designed by the architect Dinocrates of Rhodes as an almost perfect rectangle, and broad streets crisscrossed the city in a grid pattern.

Ships were able to access the Nile by sailing across the Lake Mareotis, on which another port was built. 

After the death of Alexander, the Ptolemaic dynasty settled in Egypt and chose the city of Alexandria as its capital, filling it with many monuments. Ptolemy Soter, the first Ptolemaic king, built the famous Library of Alexandria, which was said to hold as many as 700,000 works: mostly Greek texts, but also numerous translations. He also founded the Museum next to the palace, as a place where wise men and linguists employed by the king, such as Eratosthenes, Apollonius, Euclid, Theocritus and Archimedes, could pursue their studies.  


Alexandria was not only a major political and trading city, but also the principal city for science, philosophy, and the arts. For many centuries, it remained the intellectual capital of the Mediterranean Basin.